Weddings have boomed into a huge industry in the West. During the last few years, my day job was directly related to that industry and was constantly reminded of what a production our weddings have become. The perfect satin chair covers. The handmade origami wall decorations. The professional make-up artists. The $200 groomsmen gifts (and the ten-groomsmen-strong wedding parties). The fashion-inspired photography shoots, with pre-wedding and day-after sessions included. The Facebook groups full of brides selling bird cages, candelabras—and yes, the dress too—only days after the big event. None of this is wrong, per se, but weddings have become extravagant, costly...and overwhelming. Why?
In Asia, weddings are multi-day, over-the-top affairs, but North American weddings were traditionally more straightforward, perhaps due to our history of pioneering and homesteading, valuing good old-fashioned hard work and what we now call DIY. Our forefathers had left their extended family or their homes to strike out somewhere new. Unlike Asians, who may have inhabited the same land or even home for hundreds of years, North Americans were more accustomed to "pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps" and paying their own way.
North America's founders also had, overall, a generally B!blically-based concept of a wedding is, and built their events that way. They knew that no matter how big or small a fuss was made, at its core, a wedding was solemn occasion, established and ordained by God. But as the West has less understanding of true marriage before God, and more emphasis on self and defining our own truth, weddings are less built on Faith. Weddings then become self-centred ("It's my day!"), imprudent ("Let's take out a line of credit..."), and proud ("Look how beautiful we are!") affairs.
As people of Faith, our weddings should be distinctive. We need to look away from the world's form of marriage (after all, it's being constantly redefined anyway) and return to purposeful weddings as seen through the lens of simple, pure Faith in that One who says that "without Faith it is impossible to please Him." No matter our style, our past, our status, our traditions, weddings of believers should have this in common: our weddings should be full of Him.
Our dating, engagement and marriage are by no means normative or perfect. We were engaged on July second (in America) and married on November twenty-second (in Canada). Between those two dates, I finished my job in Asia, dropped by Europe briefly to see where I'd be moving, then hopped back to Canada for the last pre-wedding month. Despite these unique circumstances, I think I can share some perspective on redeeming the wedding season as a person of faith.
It was helpful for me, in the midst of so many voices and opinions and decisions, to establish priorities and order our plans accordingly...just like in the rest of life. A friend once commented that you learn a lot about someone from their wedding. I think that is generally true. Our weddings display our (or our families') values, and here were ours:
We wanted a short engagement. People will tell you that you need at least a year to plan a wedding, or over six months to order a dress. Don't believe them. We had God's peace that we were better together, we had our family's approval, and we saw no reason to delay marriage. Some complained that we planned a November wedding in a Northern city; others assumed that I always dreamed of being married in the winter. One friend said I was "brave" to marry in the snowy season. But the fact was, we just wanted to be married. Winter or no winter. We confirmed that date with immediate family, a few friends, our speaker, our photographer, and our venue...and went with it. God blessed us with mild temperatures and a gentle, fresh snowfall on our wedding day. A week later, the -30°C temperatures reminded us that God had smiled on our date, chosen months before in faith.
We wanted the greatest focus to be on the good news. Our marriage and our lives would be nothing without it. To this end we picked our speaker deliberately (and planned our wedding around when he could come), made special requests regarding what he'd speak about, and handed out booklets our speaker had written, to our guests.
|Our wedding purpose statement, |
printed in the wedding program
We wanted to emphasize what marriage is, not what it is not. I feel there is a lot of confusion about what a wedding is: a showy party? a stupid decision? an outdated tradition? all about me? We printed a purpose statement in the front of our wedding programs, which literally explained why marriage, and why a wedding. Although in our culture, ceremonies have become quick affairs, and the emphasis is on the reception or party to follow, to me it was important that the ceremony be the big deal. I wanted the ceremony to feel like the real event (that's where the covenant happens!), and the lunch the add-on. (I think I got that idea from this book, which I found a somewhat helpful).
We wanted to be serious about what was taking place. I see a lot of playful wedding invitations or programs, and I tried, at first, to make a playful one, too. We did make a funny engagement announcement, that told the story of our relationship in an entertaining way. But in the end, for the ceremony invitation itself, I veered back to both serious wording and design, because of the nature of the event. We invited our guests "to be our witnesses as we join in the covenant of marriage before God." Covenants are serious. I am not usually a "classic" person, but I felt that our wedding almost needed to be so: we didn't invent marriage; this covenant is nearly as old as time. In the end, we used a pre-made wedding liturgy with traditional vows, and printed it word-for-word in the program, which also lent to the traditional feel.
We wanted it to be distinctly Chr!stian. Maybe that seems obvious. But for us, it was an opportunity to tell everyone where we stood as individuals and as a couple. One thing I've realized is quite distinctively Chr!stian is joyful, corporate singing, so we included two participatory songs in the ceremony. Especially for our Asian friends who attended or watched online (via live stream), the clear, practical counsel offered to us from the pulpit would be very different than the unintelligible mantras chanted at their traditional weddings. We wanted the ceremony to be faith-filled and were careful about the instrumental songs we chose, the wording of the bulletin, and more.
We wanted prayer to be foundational to our wedding (and marriage), so we spent time together and separately, praying much for the big day, for our guests, and for our marriage. On the morning of the wedding we prayed together in the sanctuary before getting ready.
We wanted our wedding to be an expression of hospitality and community. We wanted to include as many people as reasonably possible. Too often I hear of people who plan their dream wedding, and then try to fit people into it. Or who say it is too expensive to invite a few more people, but, if the meal were less extravagant, could accommodate more guests. We planned our reception around the people we hoped to include, not the people around our dream reception. In particular we wanted to invite people who don't know the Love we know, and have them see and experience real Love. One such friend wrote to us and said he felt "immediately welcomed" at our wedding; this is what we were going for.
We wanted to honour our families, especially our parents, and make our wedding something they'd remember with joy. We tried to do this in small and big ways, like consulting them on decisions, including all our immediate family's names in the wedding program, creating a family tree for our guests to see, and emphasizing that our families (not just us as individuals) were being joined at our wedding.
We wanted our wedding to be meaningful, even in the details. I searched for hours for wedding jewelery, and felt rather exhausted by the search. In the end, I decided I would wear simple pearl earrings that had been a gift from a precious friend in Asia. To me, the pearls were a reminder of the "pearl of great price". Whatever following J'esus costs me, or her, or whatever sharing this Faith costs me—that pearl is worth selling everything to have. I like having this truth embedded in my wedding day pictures in a way that is meaningful to me.
Our wedding was also meaningful in that so many people celebrated with us and helped us in practical ways. Having friends' and family's help with anything from decorating and food preparation to knitting and driving was not only a money-saver, but it made our wedding more meaningful. Showers and parties were other extensions of grace and especially meaningful in that I was moving away (both from Asia and Canada), after our wedding, and time with those friends was limited.
We wanted our wedding to be memorable for us and our guests...even if that meant a bit more money spent. While we don't need over-the-top weddings, weddings are very special and unique occasions. I would never go into debt for wedding expenses, or spend all our savings just for our wedding, but since we were blessed with a little margin and many friends who offered help, we sprung for a few "unnecessary extras" because there's nothing wrong with making your wedding a day to remember! We serve an artistic, creative God who created a world with an infinite spectrum of colours, textures, words, sounds and patterns...for our enjoyment and His glory. I think He smiles, when He sees creativity and appreciation of beauty used in faith, to celebrate something so marvelous as a faith-based wedding.
There is no realm of our lives that is outside of the influence of our faith walk, and when we celebrate our marriage to another like-minded person, that too should be an expression of faith.
Do we believe that every aspect of our lives is to bring Him glory?
Do we believe that God wants purity and encourages marriage?
Do we believe God has brought us together for His glory?
Do we believe that He will work out all the details?
If so, how do our weddings reflect our beliefs?
It's not so hard to determine what a successful wedding looks like: if your wedding honours Him and honours others, you've hit the target.
We're still enjoying telling people how newly wed we are, and maybe we'll forever count how many days we've been married (after all, isn't that what smart phones are for?) and celebrate little milestones. But as we write those last thank you notes and watch winter soon melt into Europe's early spring...on to marriage, our current walk of faith.